RomeCNN — Italy, a country once known for its big families gathered around the dinner table, is facing a crisis of unparalleled proportions.

For the first time, the number of births in a year fell below 400,000 – representing an average of 1.25 babies per woman, according to official figures for 2022.

This means that the replacement rate is now negative, since the number of deaths currently exceeds the number of births – 12 deaths for every seven births.

Italy is the world’s 8th largest economy and has a population of just under 60 million. In 2022, the southern European country registered just 393,000 babies, according to the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), the lowest since records began in 1861.

Babies born in Italy to unregistered migrants and to some same-sex and heterosexual Italian couples who used surrogacy abroad are not automatically part of the official record, according to Italy’s national birth registrar.

And if the trend does not reverse itself, the country could face an economic “dark age,” as there will be a decline in the number of people entering the workforce even as more people retire.